The Milwaukee Brewers have inked a record-breaking deal with a top prospect before he’s ever played a major league game, marking just the sixth time that’s ever happened. And there’s reason to fear it won’t work out in the club’s favor based on recent history.
The Milwaukee Brewers and outfielder Jackson Chourio, a 19-year-old who has been tearing up the minor league system as a touted five-tool prospect, have reportedly agreed on an eight-year, $80 million contract. The deal sets a new record for a player with no MLB service time, and the Milwaukee Brewers are making a big bet that Jackson Chourio, the number-two overall prospect in baseball, will be as good or even better than expected.
But there have been mixed results in the recent history of signing “sure thing” prospects to lucrative, long-term contracts. Will Jackson Chourio live up to the hype? Or have the Milwaukee Brewers jumped the gun?
Let’s break it down.
The Winners: Big Prospect Contracts Can Pan Out
In the short history of big league clubs signing players with zero MLB service time under their belts, the second-largest behind Jackson Chourios’ new deal went to Chicago White Sox outfielder Luis Robert Jr. for six years at $50 million in 2020. And if Jackson Chourio plays anything like Luis Robert Jr. has since that signing, the Milwaukee Brewers will be happy.
The righty center fielder hit 38 homers in 2023 to go along with 80 RBIs, 20 stolen bases and a slash line of .264/.315/.542. He made the all-star team and swatted 50 long balls in the Home Run Derby last season.
Luis Robert Jr. was 22 years old when he made his MLB debut in 2020, significantly older than Jackson Chourio is now. But, as the most recent mega prospect signed before playing in a big league game, Luis Robert Jr.’s deal now looks like a steal for the Chicago White Sox as he’s set to continue improving on a stellar 2023.
The Losers: Teams Might Have Jumped the Gun on These Prospects
However, the list of pre-debut signings that have not worked out is a little longer, as the other four such deals now look as if they may have been a bit premature.
In 2014, there was Jon Singleton, who agreed to a $10 million deal with the Houston Astros. He was released by the Houston Astros in 2018 after struggling on the field. Jon Singleton made an inspiring return to the big leagues last season, called up by the Milwaukee Brewers in June, but it’s fair to say his MLB debut did not live up to the hype.
Infielder Scott Kingery signed a $24 million, six-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2018 that appeared to be working out for both sides as he enjoyed a solid 2018 debut and strong 2019 season, batting .258 with 64 runs scored and 19 homers. But illnesses and injuries resulted in a rapid decline and Scott Kingery is currently fighting to make the Philadelphia Phillies next opening day roster.
The next prospect to sign before taking an MLB diamond was outfielder Eloy Jiménez, who signed with the Chicago White Sox for six years, $43 million in 2019. In five seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Eloy Jiménez has slashed .275/.324/.487, but he has struggled with injuries.
It may be unfair to call the Eloy Jiménez contract a loss for the Chicago White Sox, as there is still time for him to prove it was a steal. But the Milwaukee Brewers would likely be disappointed if Jackson Chourio trended the same way.
“Maybe the White Sox will wind up looking smart for signing Eloy Jimenez to a long-term contract before he played in the major leagues,” as Forbes put it. “But Jimenez can’t stay healthy, and his injuries make you think it’s not a foregone conclusion the franchise will choose to continue the relationship beyond next season.”
Finally, there is Seattle Mariners first baseman Evan White, who signed a six year, $24 million deal in 2019. Again, Evan White’s career may be too young to decide if the Seattle Mariners really struck out by locking him up early, but constant injury battles have made Evan White’s career “nothing short of an ongoing nightmare” so far, as the Seattle Times reported.
Evan White won a Gold Glove award as a rookie in 2020, but hasn’t played a major league game since 2021 following a hip flexor injury.
Will the Milwaukee Brewers Regret Signing Jackson Chourio to a Record-Breaking Deal?
Only time will tell if the Milwaukee Brewers just landed the franchise’s future or will end up regretting their deal with Jackson Chourio. Scouts are enthusiastic about Jackson Chourio’s chances to lead the Milwaukee Brewers well into the future and $80 million could be a great bargain. But the 19-year-old has a lot of growing to do and nobody knows what his future holds, for better or worse.
Jackson Chourio could very well be the next Luis Robert Jr., maybe better. Or he could follow the trend of history’s other pre-debut signings. The Milwaukee Brewers and baseball fans everywhere are hoping for the former.